Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall
by Bill Willingham
& various artists
(Vertigo, 2006)

Once upon a time, long before the events of Bill Willingham's ongoing Fables series, Snow White was sent on an embassy on behalf of Fabletown to seek an alliance with the Arabian nations. Once there, however, she found herself trapped by the sultan and scheduled to be married, bedded and executed, all within the next 24 hours.

Snow, cunning thinker that she is, distracts the sultan with a story, and her subsequent stay of execution draws out longer and longer as she spins tales of fables behind the fables.

Charles Vess, one of my favorite fantasy artists, provides the book's foundation, working with Michael Wm. Kaluta to give brilliant, highly detailed and colorful life to Snow, the sultan and his fantastic court.

Each of Snow White's stories features the work of a different artist, and the differing artistic styles provide eye-pleasing transitions between tales. John Bolton takes the first one, a bold and painterly retelling of Snow's time spent with the seven grotesque dwarves through her actions following her rescue and marriage to Prince Charming. Frequent Fables illustrator Mark Buckingham next portrays the anthropomorphic world of Reynard the Fox and Noble the Lion with bright, cheerful colors -- even as Willingham's goblin armies make their despotic presence felt. For the aftermath of the Frog Prince story, James Jean (popular Fables cover artist) strips the world of nearly all color, matching the mood of Willingham's otherwise lighthearted story's conclusion.

Mark Wheatley takes a rougher, darker, cartoonish approach as Willingham describes the birth and growth of the Big Bad Wolf. In one of the book's briefest tales, Derek Kirk Kim illustrates a chapter in the defense of (I believe) the world of Watership Down. Then, Tara McPherson and Esao Andrews split artistic duties for a story within a story within a story, one primitive and the other precisely detailed, as Snow White and Rose Red escape their conquered homelands and find on their way a witch who has featured in many well-known fables. Brian Bolland brings a mermaid to life in one very short story, and the quirky Jill Thompson describes in flowing form the flight and plight of Good King Cole.

This book is certainly intended for mature readers; youngsters are probably not ready for a naked Snow White, the ugly truth about her time with the dwarves or the fate of the Frog Prince's wife and children. But for adults, whether or not they read the Fables series, this is a masterwork of prose and artistic storytelling. Set apart from the regular series and yet deeply grounded within it, 1001 Nights of Snowfall is a richer, fuller, more satisfying collection than anything the series has yet produced.

Scheherazade herself should envy this treasure trove of stories. I only regret the book held only a handful and not the full set of 1,001.

This is easily one of the best graphic novels of the year.

by Tom Knapp
9 December 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.